A journey into the unknown

Dr Tasos Kounoudes’ high-tech R&D startup has helped put science in his home country of Cyprus firmly on the map.

Interview: Sarah Woodward / Photography: Pavlos Vrio

What’s the biggest driver of innovation? Failure. None of the world’s great technologies were created overnight – instead, they were created after a series of experiments and a lot of failures. That’s something that my time at Imperial taught me, and is now a driving force behind the success of my company SignalGeneriX and my effort to contribute to the transformation of my home country of Cyprus into a scientific powerhouse.

As a researcher at Imperial, I was challenged in a way that felt useful and creative. The ethos was that however well you do, someone else will improve on it, because there is always more to learn. So at a time when many of my fellow students were going to work for investment banks, I moved from my research fellowship on digital signal processing (DSP) to working in the UK high-tech research and development (R&D) industry.

I knew I had found my field, but I wanted to work back home. The trouble was, there was virtually no high-tech R&D in Cyprus at the time. No problem, I thought, I’ll start my own! After all, as a junior PhD you are used to taking deep dives into the unknown – and we are braver when we are young! So I came back to Cyprus in 2003 when industrial innovation was just beginning and launched SignalGeneriX.

I have always sought to be challenged mentally and scientifically and, from the beginning, I didn’t see the company just as a startup; I wanted it to grow, to generate what was missing in my local economy. I’m proud that it has become one of several pioneering companies helping to establish Cyprus’ scientific reputation. That, and the chance to create opportunity for others here in Cyprus, are my highest rewards. All our work is around innovating and inventing new technologies, and you can’t innovate without facing challenges and failing. To invent something new, you have to fail many times. That’s in SignalGeneriX’s DNA. We’re always at the cutting edge of DSP technology, building systems that can help humankind. You can find its application everywhere – in space, medicine, communications and even the financial world. It’s at the heart of technological innovation, and that’s the core of our vision.

I began by grabbing an opportunity that made me feel good, simple as that

I will always be an engineer at heart, but running the company takes up a lot of my time. I’m lucky we have such a talented team, though. I began by grabbing an opportunity that made me feel good, simple as that, bringing the research that fascinated me back home. But now I hope this entrepreneurial life will help promote the country’s high-tech industry and create opportunities for Cypriot scientists to work and innovate at an international level.

And that’s largely thanks to Imperial. I learned how to innovate in a specific field, how to understand technologies at the highest level and how to identify and understand industry needs. Then I could develop useful technologies that could help solve real-world problems. What stays with me so many years after graduating is the people I met, the mentors that I had, and the colleagues and students I studied with. They’re now my collaborators all over the world.